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Town Meeting Approves Study for Oak Hill

An article to move Oak Hill into conservation was voted down.

After a lengthy debate, Town Meeting Thursday night voted down an article that would have moved into conservation land and instead approved an article to do a study on the land.

Oak Hill is a 66-acre parcel in North Chelmsford. Town officials said they need to know more about the land - whether or not it's buildable and if suitable pedestrian and vehicle access could be put in - before a decision is made to move it into conservation.

Oak Hill had been eyed by the Affordable Housing Plan as a potential spot for affordable housing.

At Town Meeting, Conservation Commission Chairman David McLachlan said Oak Hill was the top priority for the board to secure as conservation land. McLachland said 23 percent of the town is open space. His board manages about 849 acres of open space in town.

"Oak hill was our highest priority for conservation, and it’s the only land owned by the town.  Once land is developed it's no longer available for conservation," he said. "Oak Hill, in the affordable housing plan, was eyed for housing. This can be addressed after we have secured the land. This should be conservation land."

In order to change the designation from conservation land to something out, the town's counsel said the the town would have to vote in favor of it with a 2/3 majority and petition the state legislature.

Town Meeting Rep Sam Poulten offered an amendment to the article to exclude the portion of Oak Hill already under contract for a potential billboard. Town Meeting reps OK'd the measure as a way to protect the town from litigation, just in case Town Meeting approved making Oak Hill conservation land.

George Merrill asked voters to approve the move to conservation.

"I don’t have a crystal ball but I can guarantee if you do a study, there will be affordable housing on this property, no question in my mind about that," he said. " ... It’s a good possibility the (Lowell Sportsmen's Club) would be closed down. It's very close proximity and if you put people and houses on there, the first time they hear guns go off  they’ll be crying all over town that they don’t want the noise. If it's in conservation, it'll cost the taxpayers nothing forever."

Many Town Meeting reps said they didn't understand the rush to put the land into conservation without studying it first. Others said a study should be done for safety reasons, considering the Lowell Sportsmen's Club is so close.

Claire Jeanotte said the town could always make it conservation land after the study.

"I think we can always revisit it, we have a proven track record of open space in this town and I have a great deal of respect for the Chelmsford Open Space Stewards and the Conservation Commission and everyone who has worked to preserve open space," she said.

Scott Davidson October 21, 2011 at 01:02 PM
Things I witnessed town meeting reps doing last night during presentations, Q+A, and debate: Arriving late Texting Playing Solitaire Surfing Internet on Iphone Reading Newspaper Idle chatter, making it difficult for others to hear presentations Reading magazine Leaving early There are a lot of reps who need to take a good, long, and hard look at exactly why they are involved. If you can't completely focus yourself at town meeting, you should not be representing the town.
Andrea Morgan October 21, 2011 at 01:50 PM
Where do we find out how our individual precinct representatives voted on all issues at the Town Meeting?
Phil stanway October 21, 2011 at 11:40 PM
Now the dust has settled and tempers have cooled it is time to work together to sort out the issues of this site and move as much as possible into conservation after we know what is going on all the properties up there. It has been noted that I personally (Not COSS as everyone has different views) was not for the move right now because I had so many concerns and questions about current usage, billboards, access ,trails on private land ect. I know there is a plan that everyone can live with and a plan that will make Oak Hill \Deep Brook on par with Sunny Meadow or The Bog. Those of us at COSS who did not support the moving of land to conservation at THIS TIME have asked to work with ConCom and anyone else to come up with a plan that all of our members will support. I would love nothing more than to be able to stand next to George and Dave in the Spring and say that those residents who volunteer so much time to the town support the plan and want donate time and our resource to help Conservation maintain this new site for decades to come. this like everyting I post is my personal view as COSS as a group has never taken a offical stand on #22 or #23.
Jim Murray October 25, 2011 at 02:29 PM
Perhaps many of you would be interested in reading the affordable housing plan from the town website dated October 14, 2011. In this report it is suggested 192 units be built on the Oak Hill site from 2013 to 2015, with the areas already delineated on a map. This report is quite detailed and took more than a few days to prepare, so the foregone conclusion is the town never really expected the land to end up in conservation. There is also a report available from Hancock Associates suggesting the land is not the best choice, but the the town report states it is the "best opportunity" among 14 properties studied. Also, 800 acres of open space is not 23 % of the town's total of 22.5 square miles. There are 640 acres in a square mile. Also bear in mind a 40R project could be funded by the Community Preservation Committee and could incur financial incentives to the the town by the state - another reason the town is pushing for this project. Do we really need another billboard?
Jane Miley October 25, 2011 at 06:47 PM
Thank you Jim for bringing this to everyone's attention. I perused the housing plan (it is accessible through the town webpage), and it seems that every little bit of land left in town is eyed for "affordable housing". Very disconcerting. This despite the fact that an independent study has said that this kind of 40b housing actually hurts the town financially in the long run (due to the strains on schools and other infrastructure). It is stated right in the report. For those of you who were providing input a few weeks ago to the "Question of the Week" about what you would like to see go in the old Stop & Shop /Marshalls plaza, the town has eyed this spot for affordable housing as well. The housing plan puts the plaza high up on its sites and has slated 40 units to go in there. I hope people are aware of this. The poll a few weeks ago did not indicate this to be the community's wishes. Can we please keep some character to our town? I don't think residents would like to see Chelmsford become a little city...
Vivian Merrill October 25, 2011 at 07:40 PM
I'm not a huge fan of 40B, but it is a reality we have to deal with that is beyond our control at this time. I would really prefer to see some of the run-down sites in town be considered for affordable housing for seniors, veterans and disabled folks rather than land that has never been touched. Now I realize this is tough to do, as these run-down parcels are all privately owned, but if the owners do not have the means to keep them up, they could consider leasing the land to a developer or selling it outright to make room for needed housing.

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